Thursday, January 25, 2007

Yorkshire's African Heritage

This is an interesting story, on the beeb website

Apparently, researchers studying DNA have found a rare snippet which is only otherwise found in a few African subjects. From this, they have suggested that People from Africa settled in Yorkshire. Completely possible, and even quite likely if you think about it, I mean it's not like ancient people didn't know Africa existed.

I was searching on that article for the surname under study, and found the following statement:

....the researchers started recruiting people with the same last name, which starts with "R" and originates in Yorkshire

Are they keeping the surname a secret? Why? For fear of a backlash from Mr Flatcap denying his heritage? Who's decision was it to keep this secret, the BBC? The researchers? How odd.

I love the idea that I might be "made-up" of people from all over the world. Anyone who thinks they aren't is kidding themselves.

I'd love to know more about my DNA, find out if I have Mongolian or Viking blood, for instance...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Long Meg and Castlerigg

As the weather was predicted to be "mixed", and because the footie is on later, we decided to keep it local today. Long Meg is our nearest Stone circle, only takes about 20 minutes to drive there. On arrival, I left B to his technology and walked the full circumference twice, once inside and once outside the stones (This is about 600 metres if some measurements are to believed!)

I paused at a fallen tree. I counted 162 rings on this section, but when I walked around the other side I realised there was a fatter bit so I reckon it was maybe 200-250 years old.

A family group on a Sunday walk came to play on the stones, as I suppose people have been doing for a good few centuries.

After the hail started at Long Meg we bid her farewell but decided to visit our old pal Castlerigg, which is always nice. It's only about another 20 minutes to get there. The sky was a strange mixture of grey and purple.

Williamson Park Lancaster - Butterflies, Birds and Brassmonkeys

We found ourselves in Lancaster yesterday, on an errand. After we'd done our duty, it was decided we should follow the very tempting brown tourist signs directing us to the Butterfly House. It is actually part of Williamson Park, home to the enormous Ashton Memorial, familar to M6 travellers as "that big dome thing".

There was a wedding taking place inside the Memorial, and we spotted at least one kilt.

The park itself was nice enough, with a slightly municipal feel to it (perhaps we have been spoilt by visiting National Trust properties). There is completely free access to the park, sited on top of a hill, you can see for miles over Morecambe Bay to the fells of the Southern Lakes. Its location also made it very, very windy!

After paying our entrance fee (about £4 each) we ventured into the Butterfly House, and immediately appreciated that the calm tropical climate we found was a perfect antidote to the weather outside...

and after glasses and lenses acclimatised and demisted, we took some pics of the inhabitants.

Wonderful transparent wings:

Feeding on bananas:

On the bottom of the cast iron spiral staircase:


After we'd had enough of the steam-room, it was time to see the free-flying birds and other creatures on display outside.

When the hail started again, it was time to sample to carrot soup, then head back through the park.

This stone seat is cute but has seen better days:

There was some evidence of someone sleeping inside the "summer house", which of course is currently a winter house and likely to be extremely uncomfortable. What a contrast to the comfort of the butterflies only a few hundred yards away!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Big Brother – Another fine day at the Coliseum

I admit it, I am a Big Brother fan; I’ve watched every series since the first one.

The theme tune always reminds me of a particularly hot summer in my old terraced house, watching TV with the windows open and wearing next to nothing (cos it’s hot as an oven). I watch it because it’s carcrash telly, and pure entertainment. I’ve always had a slightly sick sense of humour and this satisfies it completely. I enjoy watching from the start, as the producers pick the widest spread of personalities and backgrounds. I’m always amazed that anyone still wants to put themselves through it when they can’t fail to know what it involves.

Who would have predicted was has gone on in this series?

Who on earth would have thought that Jade Goody’s actions lost the programme its main sponsor, after over 30,000 complaints to Offcom? Before the series started and before I knew she would be taking part, I had admitted to myself that I actually quite liked Jade Goody, who I declared as “a special kind of thick”, and fairly harmless. She has come a long way thanks to Big Brother; she didn’t even win the series she took part in, and yet has done the best out of any housemate ever. Until now.

Jade recently launched a perfume – some shops have now refused to stock it. Danielle the scouse model, who I had never heard of in my life before BB, had decided to try and cash in on Jade’s popularity and as a result has lost a lucrative modeling contract. Hey, but I’m sure they’ll both survive.
( NB Some reports said she was dropped as patron of an anti-bullying charity but in fact she merely donated to it)

The most ridiculous thing is that they carry on carrying on; because none of them have any idea how mad the press coverage has got. I mean, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to make a comment on it during his visit to India, ffs!

Anyone who has watched any previous BBs will know that the situation is completely typical of many arguments that have happened before. Extreme characters are bound to act a bit over-the-top when put under stress in a false environment, that’s the whole point, doesn’t anyone get it?

Is it racism? Well how you answer that depends on your perspective. I have at various points landed on both sides of the fence, depending on outside influences and the direction of the wind, probably. I think the programme is very carefully edited – tonight, lots of new viewers will watch to see what all the fuss is about, and most of them will regret it, because if you haven’t watched it before, let’s face it you probably shouldn’t.

It’s certainly bullying; and there’s always a victim. The saddest thing for me is that Shilpa Shetty will now be known to many in the UK as the victim at the centre of this whole mess, when in fact she is showing herself to have a peaceful personality, self-respect and pure class.

Meanwhile, people are joking that when Jade gets out, a TV documentary is waiting to be made, where she travels to see “the real India”.

But who will the winners and losers be… YOU DECIDE!

I for one can’t wait to find out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I watched the new programme by Dr Alice last night; she's gone all intelligent and her hair isn't as bright any more! Tragedy. Glad to see she's scared of spiders and from next week's preview, allergic to dust!

The weather is doing mental things. Was it always this constantly windy in the winter? It blew a bit of plastic pipe from the front of our plastic house. We'll have to find some plastic ladders.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Two Years since the Carlisle Floods ...

Can you believe it?

It was such a surreal day. It was stormy the night before, and I had driven home from Newcastle in constant heavy rain. But when I woke to lovely blue skies I thought the worst was over. I didn't know that a couple of miles downhill in the centre of town all hell was breaking loose.

My plans were typical of a Saturday; a leisurely breakfast and perhaps some shopping later, who knows. I had a shower and started to dry my hair when after a few seconds, the power went off. It didn't come back on again for almost two days.

The house phone still worked - a quick call from my parents (who had been due to come for breakfast after their early shopping trip) told me that the whole heart of the town centre had been flooded, didn't I know? There was panic of the streets of Carlisle!

This I had to see for myself. So I got dressed and put a hat on the keep my wet head from getting any colder and walked down towards town.

The first glimpse I got of it was near the civic centre - a large council building built in the late 1960's.

Next to it is the Victorian Police Station.

Opposite, the new shopping centre and doors into Debenhams

Nearby, the view across the main Hardwicke Circus - every learner driver's nightmare. I searched for a picture of this area without water but can you believe it I couldn't see any - take it from me this is usually gridlocked with cars.

This area in the centre of town is deliberately left free of homes and buildings not only because it's right next to the major bridge over the river Eden, but also because planners know it is part of the natural flood plain. Hundreds of years ago, there were two tributaries which used to flow back together to form and island inbetween, and there were two bridges from the town over to the north bank. To this day, local people still say they are crossing "The Eden Bridges", when there's just one, and many don't know why!

The land inbetween, The Sands, was a sandbank used for markets, sporting events and other gatherings; for instance I remember it being used for funfairs in the seventies and eighties. Now, it is where the Sands Centre stands, a leisure centre used for - er - sports gatherings and suchlike.

The lowest part of the city is where three major rivers meet, in Bitts Park. This is the large open space where they hold the Race for Life every year. This is what it looked like when flooded:

This is why the main West Coast Railway line was closed:

Later that evening, a few of us gathered in a house with a coal fire and gas oven and cooked the perishable items from many of our fridges, and drank wine by candlelight.

The next day on a walk we passed a few lost souls from the local hostel, looking for their temporary accommodation. It was clear their only remaining undamaged possessions were in the small bags they were carrying.

For many local people the misery went on for months, and there are still people even now who are not back in their homes. Many of the homes flooded were bedsits and cheap housing, so they were less likely to be able to afford insurance. Hundreds of contractors - builders, plasterers, damp experts - came from miles away to make the most of the insurance bonanza. Some people were even ripped off by unqualified fraudsters wanting to make a quick buck.

Now, there are plans underway to change the flood defences around the city, which actually worked to hold in the floodwater rather than allow it to drain away. I almost bought a house on a one of the streets that I saw flooded ... there but for the grace of whatever....

Sunday, January 07, 2007

We Love You, Dr Alice!

There’s this great programme called “Extreme Archaeology” originally made by Channel 4 but I think we’ve been watching it on one of the Discovery Channels... One of the team members is Dr Alice Roberts.

Now if you are a man of a certain age and with certain interests you may remember her from Time Team, where her bright red hair and wide smile appeared from underneath her hard hat while she triumphantly produced a bit of bone or something she’d found in a big hole in the ground.

She fascinates me; you could almost say she is one of my heroes. She manages to have incredible experience and qualifications whilst appearing to all observers as if she is still in 6th form. Her style is one of a perpetual student; with a keen enthusiasm for new adventures and knowledge, while her cv reads as if she should be old and crusty and smell of old books. I admire everything about her, from her zig-zag parting to her silver lizard rings.

She’s got it all… the brain, the body, the looks, the humour, the career… one thing I’ve got that she hasn’t though – real red hair!!!

Awwww we love you Alice!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

What do Witchetty Grubs and Traffic Lights have in Common?

I’ve just been watching Ray Mears' wonderful new programme Wild Food. While I was watching it, I was reminded of a train of thought I was working through yesterday whilst driving.

I was travelling along an urban street having spent much of the day with lovely open rural scenery, and I was mulling over how different the available information was in the two environments.

For instance, in the countryside you have to be aware of the winding roads, the condition of the road surface and any standing water, animals on the road etc, all this while enjoying the scenery and judging how fast you can go without coming off the road or bumping into other vehicles.

In the town, there are roadsigns requiring instant understanding of languages, more road markings giving other signals, dazzling signs and traffic lights with yet more messages, and many other distractions all whilst trying of course not to bump into anything. Both situations demand using the flashing, flexible and analytical brain processes that modern humans possess, and I had concluded that compared to walking in open fields this was very confusing, and how calm a life our ancestors had before moving at speed became the norm.

Then in Wild Food, he visited a group of Australian aboriginal people who showed him and his companion how to spot the signs given all around them to find food. For instance, the leaves at the top of a vine give and indication of the tubers below ground; the cracks in the soil lead you to another root crop; if you know what a witchetty tree looks like you can find the grubs hiding inside the wood underneath.

Their eyes never stopped moving and flitting from one clue to another; they spotted a lizard swimming in the river and immediately swung into action preparing a fire and searching for vegetables to accompany their meat. Meanwhile they had probably identified the plant that provides the fibre that makes the bag that stores their harvest.

The skills that humans have developed over millions of years and used to find everything we need to survive, has been reduced to an abstract greed for speed and gathering of goods we don’t need.

When that big solar flare comes and blows our electronic systems to nothing but electrons; or when access to cheap energy ceases, who is going to remember how to survive while we are fighting to find our feet?

Answers of a piece bark please…

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A New Addiction - Liquorice root tea

Last night on the "big shop" I was very good and bought lots of healthy food, as you do this time of year (but I also got some bargain chocolate-coated coffee beans so not entirely innocent).

I had planned to get some fruity teas, because I can't get away with pure herbal teas and green tea is a wee bit too green for my tastes, when my eyes landed on liquorice root tea.

As a child I remember buying some liquorice sticks from a health shop because someone told me that they used to chew them as a child - this was obviously someone old enough to remember the Beatles. They were cheap enogh, but when I opened the bag they were - actually - sticks! I gave it a go, it tasted sweet, thee middle was a curry-yellow colour and I liked chewing the strands. After a while I realised that the now stringy pulp had become tasteless and something distracted me and I saved it for later. I can still feel its cold wetness when I tried to continue chewing it after a few hours, I may as well have left it on the bedpost overnight...

Well with the good bits of this memory flashing back to me, I decided to take a gamble on the tea and well can just say I am now completely hooked again!

Don't be confused by the liquorice you get in black hard paste, this is something else entirely, no treacle or aniseed here. It doesn't get stuck in your teeth and turn your fingernails black when retrieving it. It's great for the digestion and stress too, apparently.

But I won't be drinking it for pure health reasons, I'll be drinking it because I like it!

Tony Robinson's Tears (and other fine tunes)

Finally got sound to work on my new computer! And you'll be thrilled to know that my habitual hoarding has paid off: I retrieved the external speakers from my first 1995 PC from the charity-out-tray-box, dug out the 9V adapter from the box at the bottom of the wardrobe (helpfully labelled "speakers" on yellow tape), plugged the whole lot in and bingo!!! they aren't the best but I'll buy some shiney new ones soon. Seriously, I can't believe that a brand new PC doesn't have working speakers... but that's a whole other rant.

To check they were working I had a quick surf on myspace to play some toons, found Nev Clay! Woo hoo this must be a new site; I've looked before and not found him.

Right here's where I am going to rant... I've just typed (three times) a whole great paragraph about Richard Dawson, Martin Stephenson and Scott Macdonald, involving the use of great music, links to myspace and a broom. BUT Blogger has just lost it three times, even when I saved it as drafts in between. WTF???? BLOGGER YOUR CARD IS MARKED

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The one in the middle is a Shiny New Widescreen

It's on! I've set up the new PC; I now have five PCs in the house, three on this desk! How sad is that.

I forgot how PC manufacturers like to patronise users though - AOL my arse - and all my webpages are labelled with the name printed on the box. That can bugger off too.

OK back at work today, which means I now have to switch on PC #3 and spend the next 30 minutes sorting out three weeks' worth of spam.

Wish me luck, I'm going in!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Roll out the New...

Well this is my last post on this PC... with any luck.

No more closing windows to improve performance when surfing.
No more going away to make a cuppa while Photoshop launches.
Might even be able to watch decent-sized video streams.
Could even get that eBay listing software to work properly.
Do you think there'll be room for MSOffice?
I'll be able to slot in the memory card from my camera instead of having to fart about with cables.
I'll be able to actually see characters appearing on the screen on my blog as I type instead of three seconds later (or more if a virus scan kicks in).
The screen will only take up a sliver of desk (but I won't be able to fit gonks on it)
I might even invest in a skype phone wooooooo........

OK take a deep breath, see you on the other side...

That "Back to School" Feeling

So here it is.... the last day before I go back to work. That feeling of panic, when I justify my laziness by telling myself that I needed a break; that I deserved a few days doing absolutely naff all; all recharged a refreshed and ready to go.


Well, the weather outside is frightful, and the coffee is so delightful. So since I've no place to go, let me blog let me blog let me blog.

So... resolutions. Well they are as traditional as starting a diary aren't they. At least I kept up my resolve to blog!

I have, like a good citizen, declared to myself the desire to get fit, eat less and recycle more. The recycling I will have no choice about, thanks to my local council's new waste policy. The exercise bit? Well I have a new bike now thanks to santa!

And the "less food" bit... well we'll just have to see about that won't we. Not making any promises!

Today's holiday is brought to me by the fact that I work for a Scottish company, and therefore recognise that a second day is required to recover from Hogmanay. Very civilised. Of course because I live in England, this means that I can gloat at everyone else standing at bus-stops in the rain as I pass them to go shopping!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Just a Quickie

I've been tweaking my blog page, spent quite a long time on it actually.
I fiddled with the html, read some "help" sites, designed a quick gif for the header bar, etc etc. Then, someone invited me to be part of Wordpress. So... do I have two blogs and see which one wins, or what? hmmm.....

Anyway, I am sending this post in via my email to test the set-up. Does anyone ever read this? Hello?

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